For the better part of more than a month, we’ve worn face masks to protect our neighbors and fellow community members when we leave home.
The question is: Are you protecting yourself by properly cleaning and handling your mask between trips to the store for essentials?
Masks are certainly a new arrival in our lives, and we’re still getting acclimated to proper wear and handling. Cloth masks in particular require special care as they’re washable and reusable.
If you’re looking to maximize hygienic handling of your cloth mask, take a look at our guide on how to clean and sanitize your masks.
Safely removing your mask
When it’s time to take off your cloth mask, it’s important to minimize your contact with it prior to washing. First, open a resealable bag so you can seamlessly place the mask inside it later on without fumbling with it. The bag also aids in minimizing contact between the mask and other surfaces to prevent the spread of the virus.
Next, wash your hands thoroughly or rub in hand sanitizer for 30 seconds (if you don’t have access to a sink). Then you’re ready to remove your mask by unlooping it from your ears with one finger. This helps to keep your hand away from the exterior shell of the mask, which has the most exposure in public spaces.
Fold the mask in half like a card, making sure the side that faces your mouth is on the outside. Some people prefer folding the mask in thirds, or rolling it up and tying it off if it has straps. Place the mask inside the resealable bag, and store it until you’re able to wash it.
After the mask is sealed inside the bag, once again wash or sanitize your hands. While it seems redundant, it’s an essential step to protect your hands after handling the mask.
Washing the mask and filter
It’s recommended to wash your cloth mask after every use, which is why many people have more than one. Here’s how to wash your mask and its filter, either in the washing machine or by hand.
Machine washing the mask: Since cloth masks are handmade and feature straps or earloops, it’s a good idea to place them inside a laundry bag to wash them in a washing machine. These zippered mesh bags ensure straps and loops won’t get tangled inside the machine.
If you don’t have a laundry bag on hand, you can use a pillowcase. Zippered pillowcases function the same way as the laundry bag (as long as they aren’t waterproof), and you can fit several masks inside at a time. If you don’t have one on hand, you can use a regular pillowcase, tie it into a knot, and use a hair elastic or rubber band to secure it.
Hand washing the mask: If you have to hand wash your mask, you’ll need to fill up a sink with hot water and detergent. Another option is using a laundry basin or oversized food storage container. Whichever container you choose, make sure your hands have enough room inside to rub and scrub the mask for no less than 30 seconds. Then, let the mask soak for a full 30 minutes and rinse it thoroughly to remove all traces of soapy residue.
Washing the filter: Some filters, namely HVAC ones, can be worn two to three times before requiring washing; however, many people choose to wash filters just as often as masks. That said, filters are generally intended for single-use, so you’ll be replacing them far more often than cloth masks. Keep in mind that with every wash, their effectiveness decreases.
Because filters are more delicate than masks, it’s best to utilize the hand washing method described above. To help remove soapy residue, gently massage the filter while rinsing it.
Drying masks and filters: It’s recommended to “hot dry” masks and filters if possible, as heat aids in the sanitization process. If you have a dryer, it’s easy enough to dry masks inside a laundry bag or pillowcase.
For those who don’t have one, however, you can use a hairdryer on them. As far as filters go, the hairdryer method is a better option, as a machine dryer can be a bit too harsh — even on a gentler drying cycle. Be sure to keep your dryer at least six to eight inches away from the mask and filter during drying.
Keep in mind that heat exposure eventually deteriorates elastic. If you notice the elastic earloops seem overstretched, it’s a sure sign it’s time for a new face mask.
Think twice about these cleaning methods
Necessity is the mother of invention, and people all over the world are experimenting with different ways to clean and sanitize their cloth masks. Conventional, frequent washing is generally recommended as your best safeguard. Other methods have also been explored; however, results are mixed — and some experts say to think twice before entertaining them.
UV sanitizers: Prior to coronavirus, UV sanitizers entered the market for consumer use in the form of wands or boxes to sanitize electronics. If you’re fortunate enough to have one, be advised that some sources say masks and filters may not be effectively cleaned and sanitized by them.
This is partially due to the construction of masks, as there are nooks and crannies of material folds. Simply put, consumer UV sanitizers are generally built for electronics and other small personal items — not necessarily items made from cloth or soft material.
Microwaves: While some sources recommend using microwaves to heat-sanitize masks and filters, healthcare professionals cite the added risk of cross-contamination. After all, open containers of food are placed in your microwave daily, which is a far cry from a clean environment to sanitize masks and filters.
Alcohol: Alcohol, either diluted or fully concentrated, is not ideal for cleaning masks — and definitely not filters. Alcohol is too harsh on these materials and will likely cause the filter to dry out and lose its function. Even in the case of using detergents to wash masks and filters, it’s best to use alcohol-free formulas.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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